A lead­ing film critic teaches us how to watch the movies

Texarkana Gazette - - BOOKS & AUTHORS - By Bar­bara Vancheri

“Talk­ing Pic­tures: How To Watch Movies” by Ann Hor­na­day; Ba­sic Books (320 pages, $26) Ev­ery­one’s a critic to­day.

Credit (or blame) Twit­ter, Face­book, the democracy of the web and sites such as Rot­ten Toma­toes and Me­ta­critic, which al­low movie­go­ers to weigh in, just as the pro­fes­sion­als do. If you’re look­ing for a crash course in how to watch movies and move be­yond “It was ter­ri­ble (or ter­rific),” look no fur­ther than “Talk­ing Pic­tures: How to Watch Movies” by Ann Hor­na­day, chief film critic for The Washington Post.

In 2009, she em­barked on a se­ries of ar­ti­cles in­tended to help read­ers an­a­lyze and eval­u­ate films in the same way she does. “Re­turn­ing to my roots as a re­porter, I in­ter­viewed di­rec­tors, screen­writ­ers, pro­duc­ers, ac­tors, sound tech­ni­cians, cin­e­matog­ra­phers and ed­i­tors about their crafts and about what they wished au­di­ences ap­pre­ci­ated more about their work,” she re­counts in the in­tro­duc­tion.

That in­spired her to write “Talk­ing Pic­tures,” which gives read­ers an idea of what makes a movie soar or sink and why you might like a film but not love it. The book is di­vided log­i­cally into chap­ters de­voted to screen­play, act­ing, pro­duc­tion de­sign, cin­e­matog­ra­phy, edit­ing, sound and mu­sic, di­rect­ing and “Was it worth do­ing?” and she cites ex­cel­lent ex­am­ples along with in­sight­ful quotes from A-lis­ters.

Each sec­tion ends with a list of a half-dozen rec­om­mended films. The one on act­ing, for in­stance, sug­gests watch­ing Maria Fal­conetti in “The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc”; Mar­lon Brando, “On the Wa­ter­front”; Robert De Niro, “Taxi Driver”; Meryl Streep, “So­phie’s Choice”; Chi­we­tel Ejio­for, “12 Years a Slave”; and Vi­ola Davis, “Fences.”

Hor­na­day, who stud­ied gov­ern­ment at Smith Col­lege and worked for Ms. Mag­a­zine as a re­searcher and as Glo­ria Steinem’s ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant, learned her craft on the job. She wrote for Pre­miere mag­a­zine and was a free­lancer for The New York Times be­fore be­com­ing movie critic at news­pa­pers in Austin, Texas; Bal­ti­more and D.C.

In her nearly 300-page guide, she ad­dresses how quickly a good movie should en­gage the au­di­ence and earn its al­le­giance—see “The God­fa­ther”— along with why some vil­lains are way too ob­vi­ous, as with Billy Zane’s char­ac­ter in “Ti­tanic,” and oth­ers cre­atively com­plex.

“Karen Crow­der, Tilda Swin­ton’s am­bi­tious cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tive in 2007’s ‘Michael Clay­ton,’ was any­thing but a stan­dard-is­sue bad­die.”

Di­rec­tor-writer Tony Gil­roy im­bued her with “ever more com­plex lay­ers of self-doubt and quiv­er­ing des­per­a­tion, rather than the brit­tle, shark-like amoral­ity we’ve come to ex­pect from sim­i­lar big-busi­ness vil­lains.” He har­bors some sym­pa­thy for even his most loath­some char­ac­ters, she ob­serves.

I was think­ing of her chap­ter on sound and mu­sic while watch­ing “Dunkirk,” a movie des­tined for some Os­car love. “The best score watches the movie with the view­ers, not for them; it’s baked into the film, rather than be­ing slathered on top like too much sugar ic­ing.” That is a per­fect way to de­scribe the Hans Zim­mer score for Christo­pher Nolan’s masterpiece.

She tries to pin­point why the three “Star Wars” pre­quels paled in com­par­i­son to their pre­de­ces­sors—flabby, over­busy se­cond acts—and ac­knowl­edges that act­ing “might be the most de­cep­tively dif­fi­cult as­pect of film­mak­ing, be­cause its best prac­ti­tion­ers make it look very easy.” She sin­gles out a Brad Pitt scene in “Ba­bel” and one with Robin Wright in “Nine Lives” for ex­am­ples of wrench­ing, well-ex­e­cuted emo­tion.

No such praise comes for Adam San­dler, raunch-com reg­u­lar Rose Byrne, the “Lord of the Rings” films or 3-D, un­less it’s em­ployed in “Hugo,” “Grav­ity” or “Cave of For­got­ten Dreams.”

And while the au­thor ac­knowl­edges she would rather lay as­phalt on a 100-de­gree day than at­tend ComicCon, “in the hands of Joss Whe­don, Ken­neth Branagh, and the brother team of An­thony and Joe Russo, the re­cent Marvel Comics ‘Avengers’ movies have become show­cases for smart writ­ing, nu­anced act­ing, and timely al­le­gory, even in the midst of car­toon­ish ac­tion.”

Doc­u­men­taries and fact-based dra­mas, which could merit a sep­a­rate book, get short shrift and I dis­agree with her brief assess­ment of Rob Mar­shall’s mu­si­cals as “clum­sily filmed (and) overed­ited.”

But Hor­na­day ex­pertly shares why some films seem mag­nif­i­cent or medi­ocre, why de­tails mat­ter (a horse’s heart­beat in “Sec­re­tar­iat,” the elec­tri­fy­ing walk through the Copaca­bana in “Good­Fel­las,” the worka­day rou­tine open­ing “United 93”) and why di­rec­tors with “chops” can seize the day and mag­i­cal movie mo­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.